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Story Archives: Problems arrive for road funding
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|Problems arrive for road funding|
One of the consequences of higher gasoline prices is a sudden and quite rapid attention of consumers to how many miles they drive.
Those millions of individual decisions are starting to have a serious impact.
The U.S. Department of Transportation predicts that Americans will drive about 40 billion fewer miles this year than last, if current trends continue. Even as gasoline prices moderate, many will try to conserve.
Both state and federal gas taxes are based on a price per gallon, not on the value of the purchase. State and federal taxes combined in Louisiana are 38.4 cents a gallon.
Inflation, over time, has drastically eroded the buying power of the government's transportation funds. But that's just about building and maintain roads and transit systems. The dip in driving causes the federal Highway Trust Fund to lose cash right away. The fund will be about $3 billion short this year, transportation officials predict, because of Americans changing their driving habits.
Practically speaking, the Congress will make up any shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund with general tax dollars. But for the long term, what's to pay for improvements in highways, trains and bus systems ˇ the latter two needed more than ever as Americans seek alternatives to their cars?
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, is chairman of the National Governors Association and is pushing for major new spending on infrastructure in the nation.
His estimate is that the nation should spend $1.6 trillion over five years for roads, bridges, sewers, train tracks and on and on. It's increasingly clear, he told fellow governors from Atlantic Coast states this week, that Congress will not raise the federal gas tax in an election year.
Legislators in Louisiana face the same problem and have long balked at calls to "index" the gasoline tax to the rate of inflation. Lawmakers have taken a couple of categories of existing taxes and dedicated them over time to the Transportation Trust Fund, the state equivalent to the federal fund.
And surplus money has been poured into highway projects. That, we note, includes almost nothing for mass transit, either buses or trains in the state.
Still, major state projects funded with the gasoline tax ˇ including the new St. Francisville bridge over the Mississippi River ˇ are projected to run out of money as early as next year because of the gas tax problem.
Should higher gasoline prices persist because of worldwide demand for petroleum, people are going to ration their driving. And that will be a headache for policymakers who rely on cents-per-gallon gasoline taxes.
--The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
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